Hit this Project Out of the ParkComments (0)
By Ken Weaver
When we say, “Take me out to the ball game,” we’re not talking about action on a modern field. This project to make a vintage baseball bat will take you back to the turn of the century – and we mean the last one, not this one.
bat: (noun) a usu. wooden implement used for hitting the ball in various games.
– Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
In the early years of baseball, around 1845, bats were homemade, rough-cut with an axe and finished on a shaving horse using a drawknife. With no official regulations on their construction, bats were made in all sizes and shapes. Some were as short as 24", while others were as long as 48" (allowing an unbelievable 8' swinging arc!).
Early bat makers experimented with curved bats, bats with a narrow slit cut down the center, and even flat bats. If you didn’t have the means to turn a bat back then, players weren’t picky – a cut handle from a rake or a pitchfork would do just fine. In short, a player could use just about anything he wanted.
Early regulations entered the scene in 1859, but even they weren’t that strict: Barrels were limited to 2 1/2" in diameter, but players could still use any length they desired. Ten years later the bat length was limited to 42", and in 1895 the maximum barrel diameter was increased to 2 3/4". Bats weighed in the 24-48 oz. range (today’s bats weigh about 33 oz.), and cost around 25-40 cents for an unfinished bat and up to 85 cents finished.
While regulations were beginning to govern bat size, they didn’t limit creativity. Some bats were adorned with decorative shapes on the bat knob, such as a mushroom, a carved baseball or an acorn. One of the most unique bats that appeared in the early 1900s was the double-knob, also known as the double-ring handle, that had a standard knob at the end and second knob 6" above that. This bat was favored by such greats as Ty Cobb (Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics), Nap Lajoie (Cleveland Bronchos and Indians; Philadelphia Phillies and Athletics), and Honus Wagner (Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates). This is the bat we’ll make for this project.
In the years of the transition from the horse and buggy to the automobile, tongues from wagon wheels were a perfect source of bat blanks and it was not uncommon to see ads soliciting the public to make bats. The first bat patent was issued in 1864, while the first manufactured bat came 20 years later in 1884. The first baseball bat factory and trademarked bat were established in 1887.
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